By David Hytner/The Guardian
Petr Cech believes that Arsenal have fallen short in recent years because their obsession with playing football in a certain way under Arsene Wenger was more important than victory itself. The 36-year-old goalkeeper has seen a change of mentality under Unai Emery, whom he suggested was more demanding than Wenger, and he felt it was on display in the 2-0 home win against Everton on Sunday.
Arsenal were poor in the first half and were it not for Cech, who made a string of excellent saves, they would have been behind. But they shook their heads clear after the interval to tough out the win and Cech took pleasure in the “ugly” success. It was their fourth Premier League win in succession.
“What we lacked in the past – I would say the ‘Arsenal way’ was more important than getting the points sometimes, and this is not how you win the league,” said Cech, who did so on four occasions at his previous club, Chelsea.
“Sometimes you need to make sure you win an ugly game, when you are not playing completely well but you just dig deep, close the back door and win 1-0 no matter how. I think this is what we lacked over the last three years, since I arrived in 2015. Against Everton, we went through difficult moments in the game but we managed to get the win and with the clean sheet, so this is very positive.”
Wenger was synonymous with a purity of style but he came to be accused of giving his players an easy ride. It did not seem unrelated that they would be susceptible to breakdowns in matches. Under Emery, the training has been more intense and varied, and Cech feels that the squad is developing a greater focus.
“It comes from the preparation, the everyday work and from the manager’s way of playing the game as well,” Cech said. “We work very hard every day to give ourselves the chance to compete with everybody and hopefully it will be working even better than it has been for the last four games.
“He is very demanding and this is how you improve. I think the place has become much more demanding in every way so this is great to see because this is what initially drives everybody forward and gives you the kind of kick that ‘I’m not doing enough to start the game’, or ‘I’m not doing enough to keep my spot in the game’, because the manager asked for precision and hard work every day. This is how it should be. We have very healthy competition and we are actually taking the benefit of it.”
Nobody would have spoken about Arsenal’s hardiness after Everton had Cech not saved them and, for long spells, they were predictable going forward. In short, Emery’s team are a work in progress and they plainly have obstacles to overcome.
“When a club win titles, it means you have a team with the knowhow to finish it off and you can see it in any sport,” Cech said.
“I take Tiger Woods. It’s been some years since he won a major tournament and the longer it goes on the harder it becomes. This club hasn’t won the league for over 10 years so obviously you need to get back to knowing how to do it. We started with the new manager from scratch basically, and we try to get this mentality of winning every game, progressing every game, working every day and, hopefully, we can build this up and win the title sooner rather than later.
“It was a great win against Everton because having lost our first two games of the season we needed to bounce back, and now we have four wins in a row – two away, two at home – and we are in a much better place.”
Meanwhile, Emery saluted Cech’s against Everton. While the predatory form of Arsenal’s strikers was encouraging for Emery, the Gunners boss was more heartened by his team’s first clean-sheet of the season. “We are very happy with the goalkeepers. Petr has big experience and big quality. He has started the season very well,” Emery said. “He is performing like we want and today he showed us he is very well.”
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